New travelling exhibit "Witness to the Holocaust" launches

14 MARCH 2013 – The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust launched a new travelling exhibit, “Witness to the Holocaust: WWII Veteran William Alexander Scott III at Buchenwald” at Sweetwater Middle School on March 14th, 2013. The exhibit will be on display at the school until March 22, 2013.

Alexis Scott, publisher of the Atlanta Daily World newspaper and the daughter of William Alexander (W.A.) Scott III, spoke to students and faculty about her late father’s experiences as a photojournalist in the Army during World War II and his witnessing of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

The Atlanta Daily World was the first black-owned daily newspaper in the United States. It was founded in 1928 by Alexis’ grandfather, W.A. Scott II. Her father, W.A. Scott III, was a Business and Math major at Morehouse College in 1943 when he was unexpectedly drafted into the Army. Before being shipped overseas in 1944, he married his high school sweetheart, Marion Willis. W.A. was a reconnaissance sergeant, photographer, camoufleur, and part-time historian in S2 (Intelligence Section) of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion.

Drawing parallels between the Jim Crow Laws of the 1880’s-1960’s implemented in the United States and the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935-1945 implemented in Germany and Nazi-controlled areas of Europe, Scott pointed out that during World War II the United States Army was, like much of the nation itself, segregated. “Things were supposed to be ‘separate but equal’ but they were not, of course. They were separate but they were not equal. So that was one of the challenges that many of the black soldiers had – they were fighting for rights that they could not enjoy,” she explained. “But a lot of the black solders felt that because they were fighting for democracy, surely the United States would see that and recognize that; ‘we are just as patriotic, just as American, and this will make a difference when we come back home.’ And, as you know, it certainly did.”  On July 16, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which abolished racial discrimination in the armed forces.

On April 11, 1945, W.A. rode into Eisenach, Germany, on an Army convoy with the 8th Corps of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. Nothing in W.A.’s background growing up in Atlanta could have prepared him for the horrors he witnessed at Buchenwald, one of the largest concentration camps established by the Nazis within German borders. The African American soldiers liberating the camp could hardly overlook the irony of their own status in an army that considered them inferiors, even as they fought to defeat the Nazi army which carried the banner of racial supremacy. With his camera, W.A. documented the atrocities for which the Nazis were responsible at Buchenwald. Many of these photographs were deemed to be official evidence and had to be turned over to the United States government. However, Scott recalls how deeply just one of the photos her father was able to keep, an image of corpses piled on top of each other, haunted her when she was a child.

Scott passed around a copy of a pamphlet her father used when he spoke to schools about his experiences. Many of the photographs in the pamphlet are included in the travelling exhibit. W.A. also travelled to speaking engagements with a Buchenwald survivor, Alex Gross. W.A. and Gross had become close friends after meeting in 1970 at an event for liberators and survivors of the camp. Scott elaborated that Gross called the African-American soldiers angels because upon liberation he had never seen anyone like them; as he looked up from near death he thought that surely they must be angels come to rescue him.

“Because my father witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust and was experiencing the
injustice of racial discrimination back at home, he was determined to do what he could to
change things. One of the things he knew, based on his experiences as a soldier in
World War II, is that there was a concerted effort to eliminate the Jews – a genocide – and
that this was the extreme execution of hatred. He realized, in coming back to combat
it here, that you cannot fight hate with hate. Hate only begets more hate.”
- Alexis Scott

After the war, W.A. returned to Atlanta and completed his education at Morehouse. He then applied to Georgia Tech despite the fact that acceptance was impossible at the time due to the color of his skin. He submitted his application in order to challenge the system. Scott shared other examples with the students of how her father challenged the status-quo of a segregated Georgia through “non-violent confrontations of the injustice.” She stated that “the rest of his life was lived-out in a sense of community…he was determined to do things that would challenge and confront the system. But he was not going to throw stones at the system.”

In 1948 he became circulation manager of the Atlanta Daily World and was very active in the Atlanta community. He served on the committee to celebrate the first official national holiday commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. W.A. was appointed by Georgia Governors Joe Frank Harris and Zell Miller to be a member of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. He was also appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Scott was introduced by Nadaria Wade, the 2012 winner of the Distinguished Educator of the Year, an award distributed by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust to educators who demonstrate excellence and creativity in the development and presentation of lessons in the Holocaust, human rights, civil rights, or character development. Among the students in the audience were those in Sweetwater Middle School’s art and cinema club who decorated a trunk in honor of W.A. for the Holocaust Learning Trunk Project.

The travelling exhibit is a series of 10 panels with biographical information about W.A. and his witness testimony about the liberation of Buchenwald. The exhibit is based on a permanent exhibit of the same name which is hosted at the Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945 exhibit in Sandy Springs.